The Coronavirus pandemic has caused undue stress and anxiety for people around the world. Those who are dependent on alcohol or drugs to cope with stress or depression are possibly even more affected. It might not seem like there’s much to be grateful for right now, but practicing Gratitude is important for those in addiction recovery as a coping strategy to get through tough times.
Gratitude can actually be therapeutic for people of all walks of life during these difficult times and it’s valuable to explore why.
Striving for more is a way of life for so many people. Endless to-do lists, and constantly being busy and focused on the hustle to do, and have more, is normal for most of us.
From a young age, we’ve been programmed by society, the media, and especially advertisers to crave what we don’t have so we’ll buy more.
Think about it, if we had everything we needed (which we do) then why would we buy so much more stuff? The simple answer is, we wouldn’t.
People who are satisfied and grateful for all the things in life they already have are uncommon in our society.
One reason we identify with the need to buy or own more stuff is that we feel the next thing we purchase or do will change our life and finally make us happy. This could be a new car, phone, computer, or even going to a concert or taking a well-deserved vacation.
The sad thing is this is almost never the case and the novelty of owning or doing new things quickly wears off as we move on to the next new thing we want on our list.
What if we flipped this habit on its head, and focused on being grateful for what we already have? Of course it’s easier said than done, but it’s possible with a little practice.
Practicing gratitude can change how we see the world, maybe not overnight, although with time, effort, and repetition, we can transform our thinking to a healthier place and overcome many of the issues that cause stress and anxiety in our life.
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”
– Robert Brault
All of us are constantly being challenged by life, whether we are in recovery or not, and these days the challenge is more difficult than ever.
To help us all get through the days with a little more peace in our life, we’ll explore some of the benefits of gratitude in addiction recovery. These benefits are also helpful for those not in recovery or that don’t have a problem with drugs or alcohol.
That’s because Gratitude is an effective tool that can be used by anyone, and is not limited only to those in recovery. We’ll also throw in some famous gratitude quotes along the way to keep you motivated.
What is Gratitude and Why Does it Matter?
Gratitude is a positive emotion that is more complex than simply saying “Thank You.” It is a deeper appreciation of what we already have, as well as what we receive from other people or a higher power.
Gratitude allows us to focus on the good things in our lives and provides an opportunity to appreciate the little things that actually matter most.
A gratitude practice humbles us and creates the ability to shift our perspective from our self to others. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what we receive, tangible, or intangible.
Simple gestures of gratitude are easy to do and have a wide range of benefits. From social connectedness and compassion to actual physical alterations in the brain that allow us to live a more fulfilling life.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
– Albert Einstein
Why is Gratitude Important in Addiction Recovery?
Peace of mind and happiness are felt when people are thankful for what they have. Gratitude is a frame of mind that allows us to examine the good things we already have present in our life, rather than lamenting about what we don’t have or possess. For this reason, gratitude is vital to remaining sober.
We can and should be grateful for what we have, or for the good that has happened to us, like family, friends, or even becoming sober. It’s easy to take things for granted, and when this happens it can dull or reduce the satisfaction we feel in our life.
Not showing gratitude has a tendency to push people away, while giving thanks for what people do for us fosters a positive sense of connection.
Being grateful for being sober provides motivation to overcome any adversity that might arise. On the other hand, taking recovery for granted is a slippery slope and one that is likely to move us closer to relapsing.
Another reason gratitude is so important in addiction recovery is that people who are suffering from addiction are often self-absorbed. Any of us who have been there know this to be true. Gratitude has the power to turn this viewpoint around by switching the perspective from us to others.
Recovering from addiction, and the mental health issues that often accompany it, is a life-changing event that is worthy of rejoicing in every day. It is truly something to be grateful for. That feeling of gratitude is useful motivation to weather the storm of difficult times.
“A grateful alcoholic will never drink again.”
– Famous 12 step saying
What Does the Big Book Say About Gratitude?
The Big Book is another name for the book “Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism.” One line in the Big Book that stands out is:
“We talked of intolerance, while we were intolerant ourselves. We missed the reality and the beauty of the forest because we were diverted by the ugliness of some of its trees.”
Being intolerant of others is a negative symptom of addiction and it’s quite the opposite of being thankful and living a life of gratitude.
In effect, being thankful and grateful allows us to see the bigger picture by opening our eyes to the beauty of the little things in our life.
Things that we might have missed or not noticed before can now be admired and appreciated because we have slowed down and shifted our viewpoint on what truly matters and brings us real satisfaction.
Gratitude in Early Addiction Recovery
Gratitude has the power to help all of us stay motivated by focusing on the present moment and what we already have, rather than dwelling on the past or what we don’t have.
It also gives us more power to handle stress. All of these attributes are essential in the journey towards thriving in sobriety.
People don’t always have an attitude of gratitude in early addiction recovery. This is partly true because alcohol or drugs are often used as coping mechanisms to deal with stress and pain.
Early in recovery, the substances used as coping mechanisms are taken away and removed as a source of dealing with the raw emotions that inflict misery or discomfort.
This will change as time goes by and new tools like mindfulness and gratitude are introduced as healthier and more effective ways of dealing with negative emotional thought patterns.
“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.”
— Dalai Lama
The Science of Gratitude
It’s normal to doubt mindset practices like giving gratitude, mainly because it’s not something we are familiar with or do on a regular basis.
However, practicing gratitude has been scientifically proven to provide many health benefits. For example, grateful teenagers have been found to have higher grades and report higher life satisfaction, according to studies published by the University of California at Davis.
The simple act of writing a few sentences and expressing thanks has shown to result in fewer trips to the doctor as reported in the United States National Library of Medicine. These results aren’t temporary either and the positive results on the brain from expressing gratitude can last for more than three months.
Other studies have shown that people who constantly count their blessings are more likely to feel happy and less depressed, which means gratitude is probably beneficial for people with other mental health concerns as well as depression and addiction.
This issue was addressed in a study of 300 people undergoing psychotherapy. In the study, researchers found that participants who wrote about gratitude reported significantly better mental health than the control group.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
– William Arthur Ward
Make Use of Gratitude During Recovery and Difficult Times
It’s easy to become complacent and fall into the trap of feeling sorry for ourself and wonder why we don’t have more, or our life isn’t what we want it to be.
This is even truer now, as many of us spend time in isolation during the Coronavirus pandemic.
If you’re reading this, you should be grateful that you are still here and are healthy enough to be able to do so, because many others are not so fortunate.
We have so much to be grateful for if we only open our eyes to the good things we have and close our eyes to what we don’t.
Think about all the moments we wished we had more time to do things we enjoy, such as binge on Netflix, play with the kids, work on the garage, or reach out to family and old friends to catch up or just to say Hi.
We have that time right now, but so many people are squandering the opportunity because they only focus on what they don’t have. It’s human nature to always want what we don’t have, but being grateful for what’s already in front of us can solve so many problems and allow us to be happier. And healthier.
Practicing gratitude is actually quite simple. Being good at it is a little more difficult and requires some time and attention. That’s why they call it “practicing gratitude.”
To get started, create a gratitude journal and write five things you’re grateful for right now. Then add to it each morning or evening before going to bed.
Or even better, we wrote a comprehensive guide entitled, How to Create a Gratitude Jar that is helpful for beginning a journey of gratitude.
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